Verstappen kept hold of the Drivers' Championship lead with another podium
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Max Verstappen sets up match point after 2nd place in Qatar

The Red Bull Racing Honda star can secure the F1 world title at the next round in Saudi Arabia after his 16th podium of the year in Doha.
Written by Matthew Clayton
9 min readPublished on
Mathematical possibility: two words in Formula One that can offer both hope and imminent opportunity in equal measure. They're two words that for Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing Honda indicate the biggest prize of all is now, statistically at least, within touching distance.
Second place for Verstappen in Sunday's inaugural Qatar Grand Prix to Lewis Hamilton – the same result as the Brazilian Grand Prix a week ago – means the Dutchman carries an eight-point lead in the Drivers' Championship into the penultimate race of the season in Saudi Arabia next time out. Should that lead swell to 26 after the first race to be held in Jeddah, the title is his.
While there are innumerable statistical permutations that can see Verstappen crowned as champion with a race remaining, what isn't in question is the sheer dominance of the two drivers who have made the 2021 season their own. Hamilton's win on Sunday was his seventh of the season and his 15th podium finish, while Verstappen stood on the podium for the 16th time this year in 20 races, all of them for first or second-place finishes.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing Honda at the Qatar Grand Prix on November 21, 2021.
A last-gasp charge secured fastest lap for Verstappen
Sunday was the first visit by F1 to the Losail International Circuit, home to MotoGP™ since 2004, and sheer cornering performance and braking capabilities of modern-day F1 machinery made for stark comparison on the stopwatch: Hamilton's pole time of 1min 20.857s a whopping 32 seconds quicker than Francesco Bagnaia's top spot in MotoGP™ qualifying on a Ducati eight months ago.
The fast and flowing layout was a thrill for those behind the wheel, likened by Aston Martin's Lance Stroll as being "similar to Mugello and Suzuka, very fast and flowing", but not unlike those two circuits, the racing it produced was fairly processional.
Hamilton was never headed for the entire 57-lap journey, while Verstappen – once he'd recovered from a post-qualifying penalty that dropped him to seventh on the grid – soon settled into a comfortable second, the late intrigue centring solely on who would join the pair on the podium.
In the end, Alpine's Fernando Alonso held on for his first podium since the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2014, the veteran Spaniard using a one-stop strategy to repel the late change of Sergio Pérez's two-stopping Red Bull, the Mexican finishing less than three seconds away from what would have been his sixth podium of the year.
Here's how the action unfolded under the floodlights on a Sunday night in Qatar.

Max makes his point and moves forward

With Hamilton's margin in qualifying (0.455s) over Verstappen the largest of the season in dry conditions, the championship leader's Sunday goal was more of consolidation than extending his lead over the Mercedes driver. However, a penalty for failing to slow down for waved yellow flags in qualifying saw Verstappen shuffled back to seventh on the grid, potentially making that job more difficult.
With all of the Doha circuit's 16 turns either medium to high-speed corners, opportunities to pass on track looked set to be rare, meaning this shaped as a race where pit stop strategy and the opening moments were even more critical than normal. "The first 500 metres are going to be crucial," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner commented after qualifying and Verstappen duly made those opening seconds count with a superbly-judged first two corners, immediately vaulting up to fourth.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing Honda at the Qatar Grand Prix on November 21, 2021.
Verstappen got his elbows out on the opening lap
Within five laps, Verstappen was back into second to mitigate the pain caused by his penalty and while he didn't have the pace to challenge Hamilton for the win, the top two were over 20 seconds ahead of Alonso after 12 laps, meaning the only late suspense was which of the pair would snare the extra world championship point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
Verstappen took advantage of a late virtual safety car period caused by trackside marshals needing to recover Nicholas Latifi's retired Williams to take a late pit stop for fresh soft tyres, nailing a lap of 1m 23.196s on the 57th and last lap to take an extra point that could yet prove critical in a campaign where the margins are miniscule.
"Our starting position was a bit compromised, but luckily we had a really good start and quite quickly I was back to second," Verstappen said. "Once I knew I was starting seventh, I was very motivated to move ahead and that's what we did. We had a good first lap and after five laps we were second again, and I just kept the gap small through the race.
"At the end of the day, to get that fastest lap was very nice. Of course, I know it's going to be difficult to the end (of the season) but I think that's nice, it keeps it exciting. This track is a lot of fun to drive and it's really quick. Degradation-wise the tyres were holding on quite well, so it was cool. It's going to be a tight battle until the end. There are two races to go, anything is possible."

Checo's podium push falls short

One pit stop or two – it was the question on everyone's lips at a circuit where teams had no historical race data to draw upon and Sergio Pérez's strategy to stop twice proved crucial, as he fell agonisingly short of another visit to the rostrum.
The decision to pit twice was understandable given three drivers (Mercedes's Valtteri Bottas and Williams pair Latifi and George Russell) suffered from front-left punctures as the serrated Qatar kerbs bared their teeth, but that – and that aforementioned late-race virtual safety car that neutralised the field – put a full stop on Pérez's charge after a stirring drive.
Sergio Pérez of Red Bull Racing Honda at the Qatar Grand Prix on November 21, 2021.
Pérez just ran out of laps for his podium push
Frustrated to be knocked out in Q2 on Saturday, the Mexican made light of the overtaking difficulties endured by the rest of the field by charging through from 11th on the grid to third on Lap 33 and was the fastest midfield runner following his Lap 41 pit stop, before running out of time to hunt Alonso down.
Bottas's retirement saw Pérez draw to within 13 points of the Finn for third place in the Drivers' Standings with two races to go, while Red Bull Racing's haul of 31 points narrowed Mercedes's lead to just five points in the Constructors' Championship.
"Unfortunately, it didn't work out," Pérez said. "We were changing it (strategy) throughout the race – at some point we were going for one stop, then two, then one. It wasn't very clear.
"I think we had the podium pretty much in the pocket, but the virtual safety car was a bit of a shame. When you start P11, there's not much you can hope for."

Promise dries up in the desert for AlphaTauri

Verstappen's post-qualifying penalty – allied to a grid drop for Bottas for the same offense – saw AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly promoted to second on the grid alongside Hamilton and while the Frenchman lost a place to Alonso at the start, a solid points haul looked within reach before he faded after his Lap 13 pit stop, eventually finishing outside of the points in 11th. "Our pace was shocking today," Gasly admitted.
Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri at the Qatar Grand Prix on November 21, 2021.
Gasly's night started with promise, but ended with no points
Gasly's qualifying incident – where he ran over the kerbs at the penultimate corner, punctured his front right tyre and crawled to a halt – was the trigger for the yellow flags in Q3 that caused Verstappen and Bottas to be investigated and later penalised, and he was despondent after not converting the first front-row start for a French driver in nine years into points.
Team-mate Yuki Tsunoda also went backwards from a top-10 start. The Japanese rookie made Q3 for the fourth time in the past five races by qualifying eighth, but fell out of the points after the first of his two pit stops on Lap 9, coming home 13th.
AlphaTauri's first scoreless race since Russia in Round 16 was doubly costly in its fight for fifth in the Constructors' Championship with Alpine, as the French team banked 25 points for third with Alonso and fifth for his team-mate, Esteban Ocon.

Alonso defies the age barrier, Aston fights on

Fernando Alonso's podium was his first in 104 races and, remarkably, just the third for a driver over the age of 40 in the past 35 years, after Nigel Mansell (1994 Australian GP) and Michael Schumacher (European GP 2012). It was even better news for Alpine, which enjoyed its best race since Ocon's shock win in Hungary.
Elsewhere, Lance Stroll moved from 12th in qualifying and repelled Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz for a meritorious seventh for Aston Martin, while McLaren's late-season stumble continued, Lando Norris's two points for ninth (and Daniel Ricciardo's innocuous drive to 12th) seeing it fall to 39 points behind Ferrari for third in the Constructors' Championship.

Taking it to the streets

After a Mexico-Brazil-Qatar triple-header that stretched the teams and drivers to their end-of-season stamina limits, F1 takes a breath before a back-to-back set of night races to round out the season. The first of them comes at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on December 6 in the coastal city of Jeddah, located alongside the Red Sea.
The brand-new Jeddah Corniche Circuit is no ordinary street track; no circuit on the calendar has more than its 27 corners, while at 6.174km, only Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is longer (7.004km). It's also a super-fast layout despite its street circuit DNA, with a series of blind sweeps and turns that will showcase the cornering capabilities of F1 cars driven on the ragged edge. Think of the final sector of the Baku layout in Azerbaijan, only faster and longer.
Round 21 of 2021 will be the first of two Grands Prix in a four-race span for the circuit, which will host the second event of the 2022 season after the new campaign roars into life a short flight to the east in Bahrain next March.